A Dangerous Crossing by Ausma Zehanat Khan is a the fourth book in the Rachel Getty & Esa Khattak series.
I had two great regrets upon finishing this novel. The first—and one I am certain Ausma Zehanat Khan aims to elicit in her readers—is that I do not do more to aid in the humanitarian efforts to resettle refugees. While A Dangerous Crossing concerns itself primarily with the effects the Syrian civil war has had in displacing thousands from their homes—
Wait, that’s too sanitary, too nice a term. “Displacing people from their homes” sounds like eviction and not the murder and destruction it actually entails. President Assad of Syria has turned the full force of his military on Syrian civilians, on their homes, and most grotesquely in a catalog of horrors, on the rescue workers who try to pull survivors out of the rubble. He bombs his own cities—striking with missiles and chemicals—and follows this with indiscriminate jailings and torture. The average Syrian has to run, spending all their money on bribes to escape a government determined to destroy everything they know and love.
And for what? To survive, yes, but also to end up a refugee in another country—allowed in to try to make a stab at rebuilding their lives if they’re lucky, or caught up in a legal limbo in conditions that are barely humane if they’re not. And woe betides those who fall into the hands of the criminal vermin who make their livelihoods exploiting the vulnerable and friendless.
But Ms. Khan writes more eloquently than I do, as here where our hero is considering everything he’s seen so far:
His thoughts turned to the refugee crisis. The destruction of Syria and the grave suffering of its people were ignored as the root causes of the crisis, absent from the broader political discussion, absent from the news. Would things have been different if instead of printing the word MIGRANT, the headlines had screamed of torture? He didn’t have much faith that they would.
From the starting point of a refugee’s journey to the end, there wasn’t much kindness on offer. There was the reporter who’d kicked a child at the Hungarian border. Smugglers who robbed and raped along the route. [The raid on a refugee camp by an anti-immigrant group], with blocks of stone pelted from the hills. The detention centers in countries around the world, the makeshift, unsanitary camps. […] The fences, the checkpoints, the border controls, despite the promise of safety to those at risk of harm.
A Dangerous Crossing shines a very necessary light on this untenable situation, couching these humanitarian issues in a murder mystery that entangles our heroes, Canadian Community Policing officers Esa Khattak and Rachel Getty, in ways both political and personal. The Prime Minister himself has pulled strings to send them to the Greek island of Lesvos, home to a large Syrian refugee camp. Their friend, Audrey Clare, was working there as head of a non-governmental organization dedicated to assisting refugees resettling in Canada. She goes missing on the same night that an Interpol officer and a young refugee are shot dead in her tent. As Khattak and Rachel work to figure out what happened and to track down Audrey (hopefully alive), they find themselves investigating far greater criminal enterprises than simply murder.
My second regret on finishing this novel was that I’d put off reading its predecessors for so long (I bought the first book in the series about a year ago; yes, my to-read pile is out of control). There are a lot of messy interpersonal interactions between the primary members of our investigating team that the background of the earlier four books would have gone a long way towards easing me into.
Khattak and Rachel, at least, seem to finally be comfortable with one another, but there is a lot of romantic tension between Rachel and Nathan, Audrey’s older brother who is bankrolling their enterprise, and between Khattak and Sehr, his late wife's best friend who works for Audrey’s NGO. And then, there is the family tension caused by Khattak’s estrangement from his younger sister, Ruksh, who is Audrey’s best friend and in possession of e-mails that might provide a clue as to Audrey’s whereabouts. Ruksh reluctantly turns them over to the investigation with the caveat that Khattak himself is forbidden to read them:
While searching for the exact reference, Rachel came across the reason Ruksh had asked Khattak not to read her e-mails. At the end of January, Ruksh had written Audrey an e-mail that shed some light on her personal feelings about her brother’s involvement in her life. It was strongly worded and harsh with pain—reading it brought a lump to Rachel’s throat. But Ruksh’s message also stirred in her a sense of anger at how unfair Ruksh was to Khattak, how she saw only her own interests. Rachel was most struck by the e-mail’s conclusion. It was so wounding, she knew she’d do her utmost to keep Khattak from seeing it.
I’m confident that fans of the series will be thrilled at how Ms. Khan continues to develop Khattak and Rachel’s relationships with their loved ones and with each other. Personally, I really liked the bond between the two and enjoyed how they work so well together to solve crimes.
But most of all, I deeply appreciate how A Dangerous Crossing brings to life the plight of the refugee and how it moved me to do more to help. It is a compelling novel that reminds us that we each have within us that power to extend a helping hand—if only we have the will to remember that we all have our humanity in common.
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Doreen Sheridan is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C. She microblogs on Twitter @dvaleris.
Read all posts by Doreen Sheridan for Criminal Element.